Houston Texans Training Camp Update: No. 2 Competition and Injuries
Training camp in at the Methodist Center has been under way for six straight days, taking us one week closer to a pivotal 2010 regular season for the Houston Texans.
The Texans have to explode into this season running on all cylinders, in order for the team to catapult itself into the post season. Training camp is intended to be the primer to that explosion.
Looking back over the last few days of camp, here are some observations that may affect how the rest of the season plays out for the Houston Texans organization.
Quarterback Comparison Excruciating
Starting quarterback and Pro Bowl MVP Matt Schaub is seemingly flawless in execution and pass completions. He has the respect of his coaches and teammates. It appears from all angles that he is truly having a lot of fun this training camp.
Schaub inevitably will be considered one of the elite quarterbacks in 2010, that is, if he stays healthy. This leads to the issue of his back up, six year veteran Dan Orlovsky. It’s like night and day.
Where Schaub instills hope, Orlovsky breeds concern. On Mondays practice with pads Orlovsky tucked the ball and ran at least one out of every four plays. Vince Young he is not. As well, the passes he threw were ill advised and not very accurate.
Knowing that the coaching staff stands behind Orlovsky is no real comfort at this point in training camp. He is going to have to show some real improvements during the preseason game on the 14th in Arizona against the Cardinals. Otherwise more criticism will mount and the fans will be unable to rally behind him.
Third string sophomore Quarterback from Southern California, John David Booty, looks to be improving. He seems to have a pretty good handle on the play book, and is proficient at distributing the ball.
If the current climate around back up quarterbacks for the Texans does not change during the remainder of the preseason, look for the Texans to keep three quarterbacks on their roster for the second season in a row.
Defensive End Injuries Something to Discuss
The toll of contact over the last seven days is beginning to have an impact on the team. The unit that has suffered the most so far is the defensive line.
First, on opening day of practice phenomenal athlete Mario Williams went down with a hip injury. He has not returned to field since. The reports out of the Texans organization have been along the lines of; it is not serious, there is swelling, and he has had some injections. He is day to day at this point.
Mario’s health is imperative to this team’s success in the regular season. He is a crucial piece of the organizations defensive scheme.
Defensive ends Tim Bullman from Boston College and the rookie from Stanford Pannel Egboh are sidelined with nicks as well.
Sophomore from Cincinnati Connor Barwin is under a microscope because he needs to step his game up and not slump this year. So far in practice he has shown ability, but has not asserted himself as a real presence on the field.
All this sounds like perfect timing for Bills defensive end/linebacker Aaron Schobel to be released. According to the Houston Chronicles John McClain, that is exactly what happened Wednesday morning.
Look for the Texans to solidify their Roster with one of the best pass rushers in the league by signing 32-year-old and 10-year veteran Aaron Schobel.
Offensive Line Competition Heating Up
With all the injuries to the defensive line there must be a shout out to the cause. The Texans offensive line so far this training camp looks outstanding.
Starting offensive tackles Eric Winston and Duane Brown are as solid of a couple of book ends as exists in the league. If their performance continues at the level shown so far, both could end up on the Pro Bowl roster.
One of the toughest battles underway this preseason is the struggle for the starting interior offensive line positions. As of now the top of the depth chart looks like this:
1. Four year Veterans Mike Brisiel is lining up behind Kasey Studdard at guard.
2. Free agent signing Wade Smith is lining up behind sophomore Antoine Caldwell at guard.
3. Wade Smith is also pushing center Chris Meyers for the starting spot.
The real battle revolves around Wade Smith, and where he will land. The fact that the Texans still have Caldwell on top of Smith at the guard spot, speaks to the confidence the coaching staff has in the young player.
Don’t expect Smith to be content as a backup.
Defensive Tackle Competition Making a Splash
The competition for starting defensive tackle continues to heat up as training camp progresses.
The battle is developing between forth year veteran 10th overall pick in the draft, Amobi Okoye, and fourth round rookie from Arizona Earl Mitchell.
Okoye has not shown any real flash of brilliance while Mitchell is consistently in the back field disrupting the play.
The knock on Mitchell coming out of college was that he is to “undersized” to play defensive tackle in the NFL. In response to this criticism here is a size comparison between Okoye and Mitchell.
Amobi Okoye is: 6’-2” tall and 283 pounds.
Earl Mitchell is: 6’-3” tall and 300 pounds.
The comparison speaks for itself. Based on performance alone Okoye should be feeling some pressure right about now.
The real question is how long until the Texans look to resign 41 year old defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina, who had 2.5 sacks in 2009?
Running Back Competition Feeling the Love
The competition for the roll of starting running back on the Houston Texans roster is becoming the most exciting competition to watch.
The reason is simply that each back has shown flashes of greatness. The general gut feeling around this position battle is that no matter who wins, the outcome is that the running game will be head over heels better than last year.
After six grueling days of running the ball sophomore Arian Foster still holds the starting spot. His work ethic, size, balance, speed, and pure stubbornness are making it hard to argue against him.
Steve Slaton appears to be completely recovered from his offseason surgery, and is not shying away from contact. Everyone around the organization knows what kind of a threat he poses when he gets a little space. Look for him to settle in as a solid utility back, and have a long productive career in that role.
Ben Tate is improving every day. After what seemed to be some opening day jitters, Tate has made some amazing plays during practice. He is pushing the two borderline veteran backs, and will be a contributor to this team’s success throughout the season.
This is considered a good competition to have.
Kicker Competition Not a Lazy Affair
The kicking competition between legacy kicker Kris Brown and incumbent Neil Rackers still looms in a foggy distance as to what the outcome of this kick off is going to be.
Both kickers are veterans; both have had fantastic roller coaster careers to date, and both will end up kicking for a team in the NFL. Which one ends up in Houston is the question.
Kicker Kris Brown has the most to lose by moving. He has been on this roster for 8 years, and he has developed some pretty deep roots here in Houston. If not for his inconstancies during last season this would not even be a conversation.
Rackers believes it would be good to finish out his season in Houston instead of a more hostile kicking environment somewhere else in the league, so he decided to push for the job in Texas.
On Tuesday the team held a kick off, and Rackers went eight of eight, while Brown went seven of eight. This seems to be a developing trend that will inevitably send Brown to another team in the league.
This completion will not be over after week one, and will depend on how each kicker fairs during the preseason games.
Corner Back Observation Jackson Island?
“Come on Kareem! You gotta get that!” shouted strong safety Bernard Pollard during a play where the rookie first rounder was out of position, and missed an opportunity to make a play against Andre Johnson on the one yard line.
Corner Kareem Jackson has some pretty tough shoes to fill.
Jackson was selected in an effort to fill a gap left by veteran corner Dunta Robinson when he took a higher paycheck, and signed with the Atlanta Falcons during the offseason. Jackson was also picked over most NFL analysts favorites Kyle Wilson signed by the Jets, and Devin McCourty drafted by the New England Patriots.
So far this preseason, Jackson has looked out matched. Grant it, has lined up against arguably the best wide receiver in the league in Andre Johnson, he still is nowhere close to where Robinson was when he left the organization.
It is imperative that the proper adjustments are made before the season opener at Reliant between the Texans and the Colts. Peyton Manning is notorious for picking apart week spots in a secondary.
Tight End Competition Scores
With Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels looking at another six weeks before he is fully active, the question becomes who will take up the torch while he is rehabbing.
There are three tight ends in the running and really only two with a solid chance to start opening day.
Of the three, the one least likely to start come opening day is Rookie tight end taken in the seventh round Garret Graham out of Wisconsin. Graham has had as good a camp as you could ask for up to this point.
Due to the absence of Daniels, Graham has received a ton more reps then he would normally have had if Daniels was healthy. During the extra reps he looks good with solid hands, and is developing good blocking technique.
In the middle is sophomore tight end and new father from local Rice University, James Casey. Casey has built upon the time he spent on the field last season, and has some of the best hands on the team. Casey needs to develop his run blocking, and then will be a solid starter in the league.
On top of the chart is fifth year veteran tight end form Colorado Joel Dreessen. During the 2009 season, after Daniels went down with a torn ACL, Dreessen stepped up and eventually became a real factor in the passing game. His run blocking has always been outstanding. Making him the most experienced, and well rounded active tight end on the Texans roster today.
Battle Red Indeed
As the heat and humidity in Houston rise above the hundreds, so does the tempers of the team.
During the, open to the fans, Monday morning full contact practice there was a bit of a scuffle that took place. Here is how it unfolded:
First, the ball was snapped, and rookie running back Ben Tate carried the ball around the edge only to experience strong safety Bernard Pollard trying to strip the ball from his hands. This was done with Pollards usual enthusiasm.
Second, center Chris Meyers seemed to feel that Pollard’s use of force was a bit excessive, and abruptly went to emphasize his point. Some shoving ensued.
Third, Pollard did not appreciate being reprimanded by the good intentioned Meyers. So he returned the shove as Meyers was walking back to the huddle.
Fourth, this is where it gets exciting, right tackle and newly self appointed vindicator of all infractions to the offence Eric Winston shot like a bullet after Pollard. Have you ever seen a 6’-7” 310 pound bullet? It was an awesome display of a very large man moving really quickly.
Fifth, the emotional leader of the defense, and the protector of everything offence rolled in a melee on the ground. This was visible only for a split second before defensive tackle Amobi Okoye lunged at Winston to defend Pollard.
Sixth, the rest of the team jumped in. That is everyone except Joel Dreessen. According to his own interview on the Houston Texans web site, he states that he tries to avoid team fights, and still look cool somehow.
The take away from this scuffle is that this team is done playing around, and real leaders are beginning to emerge and act out when called upon. Do we condone fighting? No, but we applaud teammates who defend each other.
Wonder how many times they watched the film, and thought, “I didn’t know Winston could move that fast.”
Here is a list of some notable injuries so far:
1. DE Mario Williams (hip)
2. LB Zack Diles (Groin)
3. LB Xavier Adibi (ankle)
4. WR Glenn Martinez (Hamstring)
5. WR Trindon Holliday (Hamstring)
6. DE Tim Bulman (Undisclosed)
7. DE Pannel Egboh (Groin)
Impacts of injuries to date are:
The Texans signed rookie free agent London Crawford out of Arkansas for the second time this offseason to fill a gap left by Martinez and Holliday.
The training staff has brought out a pink tricycle for Trindon Holliday to ride on the side line. All in good fun of course.